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Robinson returns to Devils, Cunniff begins cancer treatment

Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Cunniff coached, played in four Olympic Games
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Former New Jersey Devils head coach John Cunniff, who had a distinguished international career as an assistant, died after an extended battle with cancer. He was 58.

Cunniff, who made his third appearance on the staff of the U.S. Olympic team at Salt Lake City in February, died Thursday night at Memorial Hospital near his home, USA Hockey officials said Friday.

He was also a special assignment scout for the Devils this past NHL season.

"His strong character and enduring friendship will be sorely missed but fondly remembered by everyone within the USA Hockey family," USA Hockey executive director Doug Palazzari said.

Cunniff, a native of South Boston, Mass., helped guide Team USA to a silver medal as an assistant coach under Herb Brooks, the third straight time he served in that capacity at the Winter Olympics.

He worked for the Devils organization for the past 13 years, including a two-season stint as head coach (1989-91). He guided the Devils to a 59-56-18 record and a berth in the 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs.

"John had a great passion for life and the game of hockey. He will be remembered for his loyalty, hard work, and the courage which he exhibited in all areas of his life -- including his battle with cancer," Devils' President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello said.

Cunniff also was an assistant for the U.S. team that captured the championship in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, coached on four U.S. national teams (1982, 1991, 1992 and 1993) at the International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Championship, and was on the staffs of two U.S. national junior teams (1992 and 1993).

As a player in international competition, Cunniff was a member of the 1967 U.S. Men's National Team and the 1968 U.S. Olympic team at Grenoble, France. As a forward at Boston College he twice earned first team All-America honors in the mid-1960s and played 12 years in the minor leagues, retiring in 1980.

Cunniff also coached the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League for five seasons.

Before joining the Devils' organization, Cunniff was an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins for three seasons and also guided the old Hartford Whalers for 13 games as head coach in 1982-83.

Cunniff was set to receive the 2002 USA Hockey Distinguished Achievement Award during the organization's annual President's Awards Banquet next month in Colorado Springs. The honor, to be given to Cunniff posthumously, is awarded to an individual who has made outstanding contributions, on or off the ice, to the sport in America.

Cunniff is survived by four children and seven grandchildren. A funeral will be Tuesday in Boston.

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